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Tuesday, May 21, 2024

When “Pretty Baby” Is Not So Pretty—Self-Worth, Self-Respect, Self-Love

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Lisa Zarcone
Lisa Zarconehttps://www.lisazarcone.net
Regional Director for New England AREA/ NAASCA Ambassador (MA) - 2021 Heroine Award Recipient (MA)-Child & Mental Health Advocate -Public Speaker-Author-Blogger-Podcast Enthusiast- Radio Personality

April is Child Abuse Awareness Month.

The new documentary on actress Brooke Shields came out this week, and she goes into great detail about how damaging her past was. She was sexualized at a very young age and was only eleven years old when she starred in the movie Pretty Baby. This was a movie about her growing up in a house of prostitution, and she was sold off to the highest bidder to take her virginity. She speaks about how she was forced to kiss a fellow actor who was twenty-nine years old at the time. The premise of this movie oozes with such inappropriate behaviors, that any young child actor/actress, would be traumatized.  

I felt a close connection to this story, because during the time frame that it came out (1978), it triggered me profusely for a variety of reasons. At that time in my life, I was a twelve-year-old girl who had already been through years of child abuse. My mother’s issues with mental illness always had many horrible moments of highly sexual innuendoes, and poor decision making. I was on the ladder end of the poor decision making, and it put me in harm’s way countless times. Unfortunately, due to my mother’s poor choice in judgment, I was eventually sexually abused by someone she brought into our home.

This movie has stuck with me for years, and I even reference it in my new book that will be coming out this year. I named a short story about my experience, “Pretty Baby” because I felt like I was on display for all to see in a very inappropriate and sexual manner.

Pretty Baby

When words are not what they sound like!  

When you hear “pretty baby,” what comes to mind?  I would think of something soft, sweet, and beautiful. It could be a new born baby, a delicate flower, or a puppy. All of these analogies sound happy and lovely.

The reality, Pretty Baby, is the title of a small story from my past, that is not so pretty. This short story will be featured in my next book, The Book of Joann. This is my mother’s life story and her struggles with mental illness.  

This is an example from my childhood, and it gives you a great description of what dysfunction looks like and feels like, when you grow up with a parent who is mentally struggling.

I share this story for purpose. This is proof of what can happen when the parent or guardian does not get the proper help and support that they need. The dysfunction and clouded lack of judgement falls upon the children.

This moment in time was horrific for me. I had to deal with so many unspeakable situations throughout my young life.

As you read this passage, imagine being that young girl (or boy) at the tender age of twelve years old. This is a time in a young person’s life when everything starts to change. This is when our confidence levels are either lifted or drowned in disaster. During this time in a young teen’s life, they are self-conscious, awkward, and trying to figure out their worth.

These types of experiences that I am sharing with you, leave kids, damaged, confused and riddled with low self-esteem.

This story can be triggering.

PRETTY BABY: When Things Would Turn Inappropriate

Joann had many friends. She hated to be home for too long so she would always make plans to visit people. She had a childhood friend Pat. Joann and Pat had a long history together, as they were best friend throughout their teen years right on into adulthood.

They always stayed in touch, as they both married and had children around the same time frame. There were many family gatherings together. After the passing of Jon (Joann’s son), it was hard to visit Pat at times because she had two beautiful healthy sons.

When Joann was in her mania state (the high), she would talk quite quickly, and her thoughts would gravitate towards vulgar language and sexual innuendoes. This is something her and Pat had in common, when Joann was in this mode.

Pat also had her own highs and lows, and they would feed off of each other’s energy and behaviors.

During one visit to Pat’s home, there was an inappropriate incident that left Lisa quite upset.

It was a cold day in mid-January. There was snow on the ground, and the children did not have school. Lisa was happily playing alone in her room. At this time, she was twelve years old. Lisa loved to play with her barbie dolls and spent countless hours with them, as her imagination took her to faraway places. 

Her home had turned into a festering pool of dysfunction, and this was a great way to distract herself from the reality of her home life.

“Lisa, Lisa, come into the kitchen now!” yelled her mother. Lisa rolled her eyes and pretended not to hear her, but she continued to bellow, so Lisa knew she had to go see what was going on.

As she steps into the kitchen, there is her mother sitting at the kitchen table. What a sight she was. Her hair was teased up extremely high, and her face was loaded with makeup. Her blue eye shadow was so bright and thickly applied that you could see it from down the hallway.  

Lisa knew exactly what that meant. Her mother was off on a manic high again. Slowly she approached her mother waiting to see what type of reaction she would get.

“Oh, look at you all in your room playing with your dolls, where they f$&***g?”

Lisa’s eyes grew wide, and her tummy felt sick. 

“Common Lisa, can’t you take a joke,” and she laughed uncontrollably. Lisa just stood there watching her mother become so big and animated, as the smoke from her cigarette floated out of her mouth.

“We are going to Pat’s house. Go get yourself ready!” 

“I do not want to go mom. I want to stay home and play,” Lisa stated. 

“Well, we are not staying home. You can go play with the boys, maybe even kiss each other,” Joann said sheepishly with a big grin. 

“Ewwwe Mom stop, I don’t kiss boys,” agued Lisa. 

“You will someday and even have lots of sex. Should we talk about sex Lisa?” 

“NO mom, let’s not. I will go get ready.” As Lisa turned to walk back down the hall, she could hear her mom singing crazy songs, and she just shakes her head.

As they make their way outside, the snow was fairly deep, and the winter winds were blowing. The road was slippery, and the ride over to Pat’s house was quite eventful. When Joann was revved up, she felt like she was on top of the world, and no snowstorm was going to slow her down. She sped through the streets like a banshee, almost side swiping a car or two along the way. Lisa held on for dear life, terrified that they were going to get killed. 

“Slow down mommy. You are driving too fast,” said Lisa. 

“Don’t tell me what to do you little bitch. I am in charge of this show,” protested Joann, who was now instantly angry. She then proceeded to backhand Lisa across the face so hard that Lisa’s head felt like it was spinning. She began to cry as Joann berated her for being such a baby.

This horrible scenario had become routine in Lisa’s life, as Joann continued to spiral out of control over the past few years since her son’s death. She would fall into deep depressions, be put on medications, and then she would take herself back off so she could feel the highs of life as she called them. Those highs (manic episodes) were dangerous on many levels.

They made it to Pat’s house in one piece and were greeted at the door, with big smiles and warm hellos. Pat notices the mark on Lisa’s face and looks at her sympathetically, but does not acknowledge it.

Once inside, the energy level begins to heighten. The children are instructed to go to the playroom, and Pat brought them snacks and drinks. Pat had two boys, Greg and Donny. Greg was the same age as Lisa, and Donny was two years younger. As the kids happily played games together, Joann and Pat sat at the table drinking coffee and smoking cigarettes.

Lisa could hear her mother’s uncontrollable laughter from the other room but tried to ignore it. Her voice triggered so many emotions inside of her, many of them she could not even describe or truly understand. 

Greg turned to Lisa and said, “Boy your mom is crazy. I thought my mom was crazy, but your mom is much worse.” 

Lisa was annoyed and told him to shut up. Donny giggled at the two of them.

“Oh, isn’t that sweet. The two love birds are fighting.”

 Lisa turned her head in embarrassment as it was her mother standing in the doorway. “Lisa, I have the best idea. Remember the movie Pretty Baby, with Brook Shield’s?”

“Yes, why,” said Lisa.

“I have a great idea. Let re-enact that scene when they were getting her all washed up before she was sold and lost her virginity! Pat is running a bath for you right now with some bubbles. You said you always loved her bathtub. Now you get a chance to use it.”

Lisa is sickened by the thought of what was about to happen. 

“NO, Mom, I am not doing that,” Lisa argued with her mother, adamant about not budging. 

Joann marched over to her and demanded that she get up and go to the bathroom where she strip down and get into the tub. The boys were looking at her mother in disbelief.

Lisa started to cry, “Mom please don’t make me do it.”

“You will do as I say right now. Let’s go.” 

Lisa got up slowly and made her way to the bathroom. She felt so sick like she was going to throw up. She could hear her mother say to the boys, “You wait here. We will call you in when we are ready for you”.

When Lisa stepped into the bathroom, her friend Pat had lit some candles and the essence of sexuality stunk up the place. These two women before her eyes were so emerged in the moment it was horrifying, and Lisa was totally disgusted. They both chatted about the movie and instructed Lisa to get naked immediately to play out the scene. She silently did as she was told, as they continued to talk about her tight little body.

Lisa was humiliated and embarrassed as she quickly jumped in the tub filled with bubbles to hide herself. They both instructed her to wash herself, and Pat sprayed perfume in the air. It was a cross between rose pedals and gardenias. It smelled beautiful, and Lisa closed her eyes for a moment and began to float away. Their voices became distant to her, and it felt like she was walking among flowers in a beautiful field as the sun shined brightly upon her. In this moment she felt total peace.

“Come on in boys for your viewing pleasure,” sang Joann in a loud voice, snapping Lisa back into the reality of her true situation. 

When Lisa opened her eyes, not only was her mom and Pat standing in the bathroom, but now Greg and Donny were too. Lisa wanted to die right there, as the boy’s ogled her naked body with their eyes. 

“Wow” said Donny this is awesome!!!”  

Greg, on the other hand, had the same embarrassed look on his face like Lisa did.

“Mom, I need to get out of here,” Greg stated. 

“Now, now Greg, this is your future wife, and you will get to take her virginity, look at your prize,” Joann stated proudly.  “Do you want a quick feel of your future?”  

“Mom stop, stop it,” Lisa screamed. 

Greg ran out of the room, dragging his reluctant brother behind him. 

“Oh Ok,” said Pat. “I think we are done here for now. Let’s let Lisa enjoy her bath.”

Joann shot Lisa a look of displeasure but agreed with Pat. They went off into the other room, but before Pat shut the door, she peeked her head back in and said, “Lisa take as long as you would like sweety,” and she shut the door.

Lisa was frozen in fear and furious at the same time. She did not want to move, but her anger burned as she could hear her mother’s voice coming from the other room talking about big dicks and sex with Pat.

“Sure, enjoy my bath,” Lisa said out loud, mocking these women who were supposed to protect her, not shame her and throw her to the wolves!

This incident left her traumatized, shamed, and feeling extremely dirty.

*The movie Pretty Baby was about a young girl who grew up in a house of prostitution and was auctioned off to the highest bidder. The first man to take her virginity. In the movie she was a eleven-year-old girl.

That is exactly how Lisa felt in that moment.

This is a disturbing example from my past, and one that truly traumatized me for years to come. No child should ever have to endure these types of experiences in their young lives.

Listening to Brooke Shields talk about how she felt during that time in her life, mirrored my thoughts and feelings as well.

Her statement, “I do not know how I made in out alive,” a quote she made during the documentary speaking about the years she was sexualized and eventually sexually assaulted as a young adult.

I connect with this quote, as I do not know how I made it out alive.

We need to do better for our children and protect them, not victimize them. 

April is Child Abuse Awareness Month, and we should be aware 365 days a year.

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